While the pandemic has drastically changed our social lives, it also greatly shifted the way our students experience education. To the surprise of many, students across the nation ceased traditional classroom education in place of what most school districts refer to as ‘distance learning.’ While many parents were initially unhappy about this change, as they felt it may deter their child’s education, we can actually take advantage of this shift to rethink how we see education.
For centuries, students have been taught that their wealth of knowledge defines intelligence. How many facts, dates, formulas, scientific ideas, vocabulary words, and so on can they soak into their brains before they exit the 55 minute class? Memorizing many facts might land them on “Are you Smarter Than a 5th Grader?,” but this type of intelligence is not indicative of real-world problem solving, a skill most often emphasized in the professional workplace. In fact, most educator’s today refer to this rote memorization as the lowest level of understanding, or ‘remembering,’ citing the of levels of knowledge in Bloom’s Taxonomy as a source.
Instead, an approach to education in which creative problem solving, discussion, and asking good questions is promoted might be the most useful 21st century skill that we can teach our kids. Workplaces emphasize communicating with others and arriving at solutions through discussion, as well as asking well thought out questions.
Most information can be Googled and found in less than fifteen seconds. Students are quickly realizing that distance learning assignments that only focus on fact finding can be finished within minutes. Students can often find a similar lesson online and merely reword another student’s answer.
As upsetting as this is, this stark reality could actually be a huge advantage in how we view education moving forward. If teachers want to prevent students from Googling all of the answers to their assignments – a problem previously monitored through in-class learning – they are now encouraged to create a curriculum that pushes the students to question the material and discuss with others to arrive at more unique conclusions that can’t be found online. For example, instead of asking students to identify and explain a symbol in a short story – something they could (and do) easily Google – teachers are more compelled to create a discussion about that symbol in which students can ask each other questions as to why it represents a certain idea, which would ensure that all students have differing answers. While this approach might start simply to create genuine response, it is exactly what we need in order to give our students a competitive edge in our modern society.
Even though distance learning may have interrupted a large chunk of our school year, its silver lining lies in its ability to encourage its stakeholders to re-evaluate how we think about learning and emphasizing a much needed modern skill: engaging in a deeper and more in-depth understanding of the curriculum.
Resources to Engage Students in Discussion: